tricacies of composite tool manufacturing. Blue Force decided to go in an entirely different direction by making Mastercam programming the responsibility of its highly experienced design engineer, Blain Echols. “Customers like us because we are fast. But our tool devel-
opment process was like a duck’s feet under the water,” said Bledsoe. “From what the customer saw, we were pretty fast and smooth. When we looked under the water, we were always frantically trying to move tooling blocks around to get people to machine them. Inevitably, you can’t communicate with a guy two hours away as well as you can with someone who is 20 feet away at the machine. Little details would get lost. Our tooling would come back missing a scribe line or something. Or a customer would throw a late change at us. We realized that there was an opportunity for us to shorten our cycle even more, which is what people really want to pay us for.” “Blain is a talented structural designer who is proficient in both CATIA and SolidWorks. We thought it would be far easier
Simulation features, Backplot and Verify of Mastercam X6 Multi-Axis are used routinely to check for material removal and tool clearances.
for him to learn and become efficient in programming our new CNC equipment than to teach an experienced Mastercam programmer everything he would have to know about the art of composites manufacturing. Blain already knew what the end product needed to look like. He just had to learn how to interface with the machine using Mastercam,” said Bledsoe. Blain received initial help from its
Mastercam Reseller, Barefoot CNC (Morganton, NC), in terms of a three- day, five-axis training course along with as-needed technical support, in person, over the phone and via the internet. “With this help, Blain went from zero knowledge in March to doing some pretty fancy five-axis machining in a matter of a few months. By May, we were shipping production tooling manufactured on our own equipment to a company in Califor- nia,” said Bledsoe.
Blain estimates that he spends a third to a half of his day using Master- cam. These days he only calls Barefoot CNC for pointers about once a month. Some of the most helpful things he has learned include how Mastercam simula- tion features, Backplot and Verify, allow automatic visualization of toolpaths to make sure they are interference free and for assuring that material removal is exact. He uses these features for nearly every part so that he can machine it right the first time, reducing rework and scrap, which may be a considerable